Keeping Eyeballs Stuck on a Site

Microsoft Corp. and America Online Inc. (AOL) are spending millions of dollars on the creation of Web communities for their own sites and for independent sites. These communities are supposed to invite "sticky eyeballs," the hot marketing term referring to users that click page after page at one site, accessing ad banner after ad banner and generating cheaply derived revenue.

But if you want to have your own Web community without Microsoft and AOL getting a piece of the action, you have to program it all yourself. A new start-up, Inc., is trying to change this situation.

The company has put together an outsourced program that helps independent sites develop a Web community that provides e-mail, chat rooms, forums, personal calendars and Web sites. One feature that makes this solution different from Microsoft and AOL is the ad banners. They aren't Union-Street's, they're yours. Or, if you find the placement of ad banners distasteful, then don’t include them. The only sign that Union-Street is involved with the community is a little "Powered by Union-Street" graphic at the bottom of each page.

"One of the big things is our system is unique: As we are an ASP, we are not trying to promote our own site as a vertical site," says Ed Peterson, president of "We're not trying to be a Hotmail, or DejaNews. We're trying to provide the technology. We don't take the users or the content."

Peterson explains the difficulty with a solution such as Microsoft's MSN, is that it cobrands your site and tries to bring users to its own site. MSN, however, is free, while Union-Street is not. The price you pay is the premium to ensure the eyeballs on your site stay on your site.

Steve Hess, president of Internet Strategies Int’l (, says the need for a Web community is one of the biggest holes needed to be filled in e-commerce today. "One of the problems I'm seeing with new e-commerce sites is that they're relying on advertising for users to come back to their site to buy product," Hess explains. "But if there's nothing else, then those users won't come back."

Hess says sites need value-added services to bring eyeballs back to the site and to stay there. And some services can be used to charge subscriptions for access to certain sections of a site.

One problem that will grow with time, Hess expects, is that you can only keep eyeballs on a site for so long before they travel somewhere else. But users will want to use the same Web community services they’ve grown accustomed to on that new site and they won't be able to. Hess says it will be interesting to see what industry standards, if any, are developed for Web communities.